The popularity of meditation in the West has grown in parallel with the mainstreaming of alternative health and the New Age movement and is now fuelled by a potent combination of traditional anecdote, selective misreadings of the scientific database and marketing hyperbole. Popularity with consumers may well be encouraged by apparent acceptance amongst health professionals.

The scientific evidence clearly shows that prevalent definitions of meditation do not have much of an effect beyond that of simple rest. This is primarily because the original understandings of meditation and its relationship to mental silence have not been successfully translated into the West.

The current lack of clarity about definition is used by the New Age industry and entrepreneurs to perpetuate a misunderstanding of a form of meditation that is basically no more effective than sitting quietly, listening to music or walking in the park. In contrast the traditional understanding of meditation as mental silence does appear to generate scientifically verifiable effects and is therefore likely to be if considerable value to health professional and indeed modern consumers. Sahaja Yoga meditation is an example of such an approach to meditation.

Dr Ramesh Manocha